In 1977, George Lucas made history in the first 90 seconds of the original "Star Wars" movie. Rather than conventional rolling credits, he produced a 90-second crawl—a short story—as the opening for the epic series. His history-making grabber established the brand.

A long time ago in a reality far away, a major concern for corporate and conference presenters was how to hold audience attention through presentations that regularly continued for hours. They are generally shorter now, a circumstance for which most of us are grateful. Still, although keeping audience attention requires effective tactics in both content and delivery, it's becoming more difficult to secure that attention at the outset. The competition is fierce. According to recent statistics, over 100 billion emails and more than 500 million tweets are sent daily. The number of mobile YouTube views averages one billion each day.

While we don't believe that corporate professionals are spending hours watching YouTube or tweeting away their hours, we do know that such constant communication bombardment and its subsequent return fire make gaining audience attention a major challenge.


The social part of your presentation is not a grabber (hello, good morning, nice to be here). An agenda review is not a grabber. Neither is a PowerPoint title slide. Neither is a stock phrase such as "today I'm here to…"

Your presence is not a grabber, either.


A grabber is that phrase, anecdote, or story that immediately focuses your audience and entices them to continue listening to you. It is the beginning of your presentation. It implicitly or explicitly informs audience members why it is in their interest to listen. It answers the question "What's in it for me?" and thus provides the audience good reason to lend an ear.

Although the grabber fills the opening moments of your presentation, it is frequently the last piece of the content development process and often the most difficult. Sometimes exceptionally good grabbers emerge during early rehearsals, especially when one of the listeners is not overly familiar with a subject. Stylistically, grabbers can take many forms.


  • A story can be particularly effective if it is based on personal experience. It can be used to paint a picture that helps listeners better understand the context and meaning of your presentation.
  • A quotation taken from public sources such as well-known media, literature, vetted experts, or executive management provides a kernel of meaning and understanding from which your presentation can grow.
  • A surprising fact or statistic can indicate both topic and direction and, if you reframe or speak against it, is likely to engage the audience's surprise and attentive curiosity.
  • A familiar phrase or reference used appropriately and meaningful to most audience members can help you create an immediate sense of inclusion that attracts their attention.
  • Jokes rarely work as grabbers, but humor can be used if it appears natural and is sensitive to the occasion, emotional state of the audience, and cultural expectations.

Your grabbers don't need to make history, but you can enhance your personal brand by opening your next presentation in an unexpected way.

May the Force of the grabber be with you.